Friday, January 01, 2010

Week One: First Footing

Good morning, dear blog reader. Sore heads? We'll soon put that right. Whereupon we begin 2010 with yet more Top Telly Tips from the Top Telly Tipster himself. Hey man, what can I say? It's ma job.

New Year's Day
Doctor Who - 6:40 BBC1. So, what exactly does 'he will knock four times mean?' Why is Timothy Dalton spraying the assembled Time Lords of Gallifrey with hockle and phlegm every time he opens his mouth? Will Matt Smith actually say anything before the end of the episode? Now that everyone is John Simm are we expecting Philip Glenister to show up and start wittering on about us being surrounded by armed bastards? These questions, and many more may be answered as the Doctor (David Tennant, just in case you'd forgotten) faces the end of his life, whilst the Master's victory unleashes 'the greatest terror of all.' What, again? Tonight's a night where we ring out the old, what with the ending of Gavin & Stacey and, on a more epic scale, we bid a last farewell to the tenth Doctor in what could well be one of the defining moments of 2010 television. Yes, we know it's only 1 January, but regenerations stories don't happen all that often. As Russell Davies's tale of absolute power corrupting, absolutely, concludes Tennant faces the end of his life as The Master's insane, terrifying plans spin, wildly, out of control. With the sound of drums growing ever louder, and an ancient trap encircling the Earth, it's down to the Doctor and that faithful, redoubtable old soldier Wilf (the fabulous Bernard Cribbins) to fight on alone. But there will have to be terrible sacrifices as the prophecy 'He will knock four times' finally comes true. You'll cry your eyes out. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about - I'm a professional TV reviewer. And, I can assure you that's true because I've never stood for parliament.

Agatha Christie's Marple - 9:00 ITV - an adaptation of one of Agatha's lesser works, They Do It With Mirrors - has all the trappings you'd expect of a good old-fashioned whodunnit: a dark house, a thunderstorm, a gloved hand and ... good old Mad Joan Collins in a night cap! Thankfully Joan, as the stupendously rich Ruth Van Rydock, is more in a sublime Quest For Love mood than an over-the-top Dynasty one, and dons much more suitable and vivacious hats later on when she pleads with her old friend Jane Marple (Julia McKenzie, rapidly becoming many people's second favourite Ms Marple) to visit Stonygates mansion, home of her sister Carrie Louise (Penelope Wilton). Ruth fears that something is amiss after a mysterious fire in Carrie's study. Naturally, Jane's arrival is the catalyst for all manner of murder and mayhem in a typical Christie concoction of byzantine family relationships, financial disaster, a mysterious personal assistant, adopted children from dark backgrounds and somewhat reckless philanthropy. Possibly just the ticket if you're feeling a bit fragile and want to lose yourself in a bit of nonsense for a couple of hours after the heaviness of David Tennant's regeneration.

There's another terrific-looking episode of Qi on tonight - 9:30 BBC1. Yes, I know I recommend it just about every week but, if anyone can point me in the direction of something that's more worthy of viewers' time then I'll willing talk about that instead. Stephen Fry glances gingerly at genius - something which he, of all people, has serious claims to knowing a lot about - with his guests Graham Norton, David Mitchell, Dara Ó Briain and Alan Davies. Dara can also be seen at 8:00 on BBC2 along with his pals Rory and Griff messing about in boats in the second part of Three Men Go To Ireland. The first episode of which, yer Keith Telly Topping thoroughly enjoyed. Careful, Dara, you'll have Tory MPs on your back for over-exposure if you're not careful. However, wouldn't you just know it, we're somewhat spoiled for choice tonight because also at 8:00, on Five, is a repeat of the best one-off documentary of 2009, The Lion Cub From Harrods. If you missed it first time around, this tells the story of John Rendall and Ace Bourke, a pair of Aussie chancers living in Swinging London, who bought themselves a lion cub from Harrods' Big Dangerous Pets Department in 1969, before hand-rearing the animal in their flat on Chelsea's Kings Road. Initially used mainly as a really good way of pulling the birds ('do you wanna come back to my flat and see my lion cub?') the pair subsequently met Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers of Born Free who persuaded them to fly to Kenya and meet their friend George Adamson to see if it would be possible to release the lion, whom they named Christian, into the wild. Which, miraculously, it was. John and Ace were then reunited with Christian some months later when they returned to Kenya on a visit to find him the leader of his own pride. This film brings the remarkable tale up to date as the story became an Internet sensation in the early Twenty First Century. One of the most touching, feel-good bits of TV of the last decade. If you missed it last time around, I'd even recommend giving Dara and co. a miss just so you have this delightful little thing as a part of your lives, however briefly.

Saturday 2 January
In Total Wipeout: Celebrity Special - 7:15 BBC1 - Richard Hammond presents the game show in which there are plenty of crashes, smashes and hilarious mud splashes on the world's most ridiculous obstacle course. Ten celebrity contestants, and i use the word 'celebrity' quite wrongly, including comedian Joe Pasquale, Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell and Cleo Rocos, compete for ten thousand pounds for the charity of their choice. A bunch of people who only scraped through their celebrity entrance exam take turns on the notorious Argentinian obstacle course in this second of two special episodes. Pasquale drops dignity points when his shorts slip to reveal too much of what lies beneath the surface as it were. WAG model and former Celebrity Big Brother bully girl Danielle Lloyd hand-flaps her way through, while an unexpectedly mean-looking Dominic Littlewood attacks the course like a bull terrier chasing a pussycat. The rest sort of limp, splat and grunt their way to the podium, and their best muck-ups are replayed in glorious slow motion with Hammond guffawing like Stuart Hall on speed. Amanda Byram's, however, is a face-to-face sort of mockery. As it turns out, Total Wipeout is at its most entertaining when the people who you take a somewhat instant dislike to are getting punched by hydraulic fists and attempting doomed giant-red-ball vaults. And, there's plenty of that on offer so, double bonus.

Take Me Out - 7:15 ITV - is a new dating series hosted by the terminally unfunny 'comedian' Paddy McGuinness, who will be playing matchmaker to thirty single women who are looking for love. And, desperate to get their faces on TV by the look of things. A succession of single men must do their best to impress the watching ladies, who each have a light that they can turn on or off to show their opinion of the chaps in question. The blokes will do everything from wrestling, singing, fire-eating and even plain old flirting to try and get a date - but which of the lads will light up our girls' love lives and who among them will cause a black out with dating despair? Blind Date for the Twenty First Century, basically. Just give me a gun and bring back Cilla.

Sunday 3 January
Kenneth Branagh's back in Wallander - 9:00 BBC1. Wheat fields wave in the breeze, a frenzied stallion gallops down a dark road and a permanently unhappy Swedish detective stares bleary-eyed into the bleak middle distance, his soul lost in apparent torment. Yes, it could only be the glorious Ingmar-Bergman-meets-Midsomer Murders, Wallander. After a brief, BAFTA-winning series last year, Kurt Wallander returns, still dishevelled, unshaven and a little grubby, in another polished adaptation of a Henning Mankell story. In Faceless Killers, Wallander is called to a remote farmhouse where an elderly couple have been tortured and murdered. With her dying breath the old woman whispers a word loaded with significance; if it gets out, it could have fearful repercussions for Sweden's delicate race relations. As tensions simmer, Wallander has personal matters to attend to. His ailing father (the mesmerisingly good David Warner) is in the grip of dementia and needs constant care, and Wallander's wet-as-a-slap-in-the-face-with-a-haddock daughter has a new boyfriend whom Kurt is not very keen on. It's gripping stuff, even though Branagh's constant striving to invest every single frame of film with significance can be a little distracting. But this is yer actual proper drama. I'm glad it's back.

Sunday also sees Celebrity Big Brother: The Launch - 9:00 Channel 4. Fans will be muttering a silent prayer tonight that CBB's producers have found a worthy batch of housemates for the show's seventh - and final - series. With the right mix we all know how the format can throw up moments of surreal majesty. Yes, we have to crawl through dull stretches of ego-tickling between people who are nowhere near as charismatic as they (and sometimes we) imagined they'd be, but it's occasionally worth it. Arguably, the unstoppable rise of reality TV in the noughties could be summed up in the timeless words, 'Would you like me to be the cat?,' as uttered in 2006 to a formerly popular actress by a Member of Parliament wearing spandex. That's what the Big Brother house can do to even the most hardened of 'personalities,' and it's why many people love it. Rumoured housemates have included MC Hammer and his balloony trousers and Heidi Fleiss (who?) any or none of whom may walk through the doors for that opening scene where they try to work out who their companions are without being rude. If it's true that Gazza and Vinnie Jones are in there then expect some high verbal tackles to be taking place quite soon. This one might be a sight to see.

Monday 4 January
After a disappointing series two years ago, Hustle - 9:00 BBC1 - really seemed to get its mojo back last time around. The formula, which had started to flag and become predictable, got a real burst of adrenalin with a cast shake-up and some new writers. As this everyday tale of grifting folk returns for a sixth run, there's a spring in its patent-leather shoe'd step again. Even when it was off its game, the series was slick enough to be watchable. Now it's firing on all cylinders, it reminds you what a great premise it has: a gang of charismatic fraudsters (at least four of whom are really good actors) fleece black-hearted baddies, romping around a cartoon London of glamour and wealth. Like its American counterpart, Leverage, it's fast, slick, clever and addictive stuff. It's hardly deep and meaningful, but as midwinter Monday-night escapism, it's just the job. Tonight, the mark is a failed banker who has earned public contempt by retiring on a huge pension. This all sound horribly familiar and that's one of Hustle's great strengths - its ability to tip the audience a knowing wink. The gang's plan to relieve him of some ill-gotten gains is hampered by a sultry new Detective Chief Inspector (Torchwood's Indira Varma), who meets Mickey Bricks (Adrian Lester) for dinner and vows to end his capering days for good. 'Catch you later,' she promises. But will she? Not if Robert Vaughn and co. have anything to do with it.

You kind of know the drill in a Lynda La Plante crime drama by now - a woman of dubious reputation is found horribly mutilated, the victim of what appears to be a sadistic and naughty serial killer. In Above Suspicion: The Red Dahlia - 9:00 ITV - the police blunder around, as usual, being taunted by the murderer. And, there's a dungeon. There's always a dungeon. This second Above Suspicion story, which concludes on Wednesday, again features unlikely detective Anna Travis (the elfin Kelly Reilly) and her boorish boss James Langton (Ciaran Hinds). The audience are asked to believe that there's a sexual subtext to their relationship, which is highly unlikely (and, if there is then it's seriously 'Ewwww' as he's old enough to be her dad). Personally, I don't know why anyone would want to watch this for pleasure, given that there's a huge dollop of torture and sexual violence towards women in it. Still, given the first story had eight million viewers, there's obviously an appetite for this kind of thing. But, for me, I'm still waiting for La Plante to write something as meaningful as Prime Suspect again. And the wait is, frankly, becoming rather tedious.

Lastly for tonight, this one's a bit more off-beat. Actor and wit Richard E Grant is one in a long line of the great and not-so-good who have washed their dirty laundry in public by publishing their diaries. But how truthful are such conceits? In the first episode of Dear Diary - 9:00 BBC4 - Grant ventures out of his cluttered study to compare the public and private lives of a variety of famous chroniclers and diarists. First he meets the sister of 1960s playwright Joe Orton, whose journals in part led to his murder by his lover, Ken Halliwell. That's followed by a revealing interview with Sheila Hancock, who reveals whether Carry On star Kenneth Williams really was as tetchy and miserable as his scribblings in the astonishing The Kenneth Williams Diaries would suggest. What a fascinating subject for a documentary, I really like the sound of this.

Tuesday 5 January
A campaign to get the nation to share their family's traditional recipes is as welcome as toasted crumpets on a chilly afternoon. But be warned - just watching this will give you a waistline to match that of Hairy Bikers Big Si King and Even Bigger Davey Myers. Visiting various home kitchens in Scotland in The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best - 8:00 BBC2 - Dave and Simon taste simple hearty fare that's been passed down through the generations, such as cheese pie, clootie dumpling and the wind-inducing 'rumpy pumpy soup.' There are some real oddities as well - haggis-stuffed samosas, for example. And, for those who think tea is something you get in a mug, check out what Scottish housewife Aida produces at around five o'clock every day: millionaire's shortbread, fairy cakes, Victoria sponges, rocky road tray bake and bran loaves. Calorie hell, but absolute heaven for those of us who still have a palette in tact after a decade of being warned on the dangers of everything. God bless the bikers, what would we eat without them?

Send In the Dogs - 8:00 ITV - is, of course, a series which follows the work of police dogs and their handlers. Two of Britain's top police spaniels are put to the test as the Met goes after armed drug users. Veteran Diesel takes on a new partner, Billy, the new puppy on the block, as they hunt for hidden heroin. But Diesel later causes annoyance for his handler Adele Gibson during a crackdown on knives and drugs. Billy and Derek Beattie join a drugs raid which turns up a fully-loaded revolver and a stungun. Meanwhile in North London, Sgt Pete Madden and his German Shepherd Brodie follow two armed robbers into a nature reserve. There's a lovely picture of Brodie in Radio Times with his tongue hanging out where he looks like he wouldn't harm a fly. Of course, the next time you see him, he's got an armed blagger by the arm and is growling menacingly whilst a man with a megaphone shouts "STAY WHERE YOU ARE!"

There's a huge ethical question debated in Hannah: The Girl Who Said No to a New Heart - 10:35 BBC1. Does a child have the right to refuse potentially life-saving treatment? That was the issue that swirled around Hannah Jones last year when she decided to refuse a heart transplant. A bright and articulate thirteen-year-old, Hannah had been in and out of hospitals since the age of four suffering from a rare form of leukaemia and she had simply had enough. Her parents backed her decision, but a potentially ugly wrangle with the local hospital followed with the implied threat that Hannah could be made a ward of court and forced to have the operation against her wishes. It was a remarkable story of stoic bravery in the face of bureaucracy, and it triggered a wider debate over whether children should be granted the right to die. So what happened next? Well, Hannah eventually changed her mind and decided to have the operation. This documentary brings her story up to date.

Wednesday 6 January
Lion Country - 7:30 ITV - reveals that African lions are under threat, so British conservationist David Youldon is teaching Zimbabwean cubs - the children of captive-bred parents - how to live in the wild. His ultimate aim is to increase wild lion numbers by tutoring babies in how to fetch dinner (and, obviously, not become someone else's) when they're set free. But creating functioning adults from precocious mini-beasts, like the pair of five-month-old brothers whose cute play carries the majority of this film, is hard work. It will take David and his team years to prepare them for life in a pride. Regular field trips to eye up delicious impala are essential, as is getting them to like water. As well as saving a population, the process offers a precious window onto lion behaviour. And for viewers whose eyes are likely to be less on the scientific long game and more on the adorable frolicking cats, it's a chance to look on enviously as someone else gets to cavort with the ultimate extreme pets. If you enjoyed The Lion Cub From Harrads last week, for example, or the BBC's Big Cat Diaries, then you'll likely love this.

It's all animals on TV tonight with Horizon: The Secret Life of the Dog - 9:00 BBC2 - as yer Keith Telly Topping's next Top Tip. How many times have you heard a besotted dog owner gush, 'He understands every word I say?' And you've muttered, 'Barking mad.' And you weren't talking aobut the dog, either. However, more fool you because, according to research, domesticated dogs really can tune in to our emotions and communicate with us like no other animal can. A few - such as border collie Betsy - are as intelligent as a two-year-old human, a statement you might not be too impressed by until you discover that Betsy understands more than three hundred words and can follow a sophisticated instruction about an abstract concept that some toddlers might struggle to comprehend. Confirmation of the various ways that dogs are wonderful, clever and life-enriching come faster than a greyhound chasing a rabbit. There is, for instance, a hormone released in bitches that helps them bond with their puppies. The same hormone is present in dog owners after they've stroked their hound. But two remarkable experiments - one involving the rearing of wolf cubs, the other a fifty-year project breeding Siberian silver foxes - reveal that simply cuddling and loving your canine is not enough to domesticate it. It's all in the genes, apparently. Me, I've always been a cat person myself.

Possibly the greatest title for any TV show, ever is Vic Reeves Investigates... Jack the Ripper - 9:00 Sky3. In this, Wor Victor explores the mysteries surrounding the notorious crimes of The Ripper, who sent shockwaves through Victorian London after committing a series of brutal murders in the Autumn of Terror in 1888. Aided by historians, experts and newly uncovered police reports, Vic pieces together a rogues gallery of potential suspects in the hope of discovering the elusive killer's true identity. Of course, we tend to think of Vic as simply a madcap comedian but as anyone who saw his brilliant appearances on Qi will know, he's a very well-read and learned chap. As for The Ripper, I've always rather liked the Sir William Gull/Murder By Decree/From Hell theory myself. It's riddled with holes, of course, but then so are most of the other ones for that matter. That's the beauty of the story - somebody, quite literally, got away with 'orrible murder. Five of them. Mind you, yer Keith Telly Topping did once hear somebody describe it as a theory which 'serious Ripperologists scoff at.' Which is fair enough. But, it has to be said, anybody who would actually describe themselves as a 'serious Ripperologist' deserves a fair bit of scoff in return.

Thursday 7 January
Sad to report it's a bit of a rubbish night on TV tonight, the return of Silent Witness (BBC1, 9:00) and good old reliable Corrie (8:30 ITV) notwithstanding. So, instead, as a bit of a one-off I thought we'd do tomorrow's Daytime Top Telly Tips instead. We don't normally cover daytime TV in this slot (because it's our direct oppositon, mainly) but it does seem to be one of the few real growth areas in broadcasting at the moment. Particularly as more and more people are, sadly, are finding themselves with time on their hands because of the current economic crisis.

Anyway, terrestrial daytime telly – the bits of it that aren't repeats of Murder, She Wrote, that is - can be split, basically, into three distinct areas; infotainment, tittle-tattle and … infortainment-as-tittle-tattle. In the first category BBC1 specialises in those 'sell some of your old junk, it's a reet good laugh' shows like Cash in the Attic (11:30) and Bargain Hunt (12:15). They're a bit averice-like, perhaps although they're nowhere near as blatant about it as their Sunday night big sister The Antiques Roadshow. And, they're amiably presented and feature some relatively nice 'ordinary people.' They're certainly preferable to the second genre of daytime shows.

Trisha Goddard (10:30 on Five) desperately wants to be 'Britain's Oprah Winfrey.' Jeremy Kyle (9:25 on ITV) desperately wants to be 'Britain's Jerry Springer.' Neither succeed. I loathe daytime chat shows – they're sanctimonious, intrusive, patronising, tabloidesque nonsense. Who on Earth would put themselves through the ignominy of telling intimate details of their personal lives to an audience of baying voyeurs. It smacks of a desperation to gets ones face on TV. As President Bartlet asked Toby in an episode of The West Wing, 'these people don't actually vote, do they?'

Lastly, if you put elements of the two styles together, you end up with Loose Women (12:30 ITV), a British take on the US gossip-show for ladies The View. It can, actually, be quite entertaining if you're in the right sort of mood for it and they do feature some very good guests – who, occasionally get a word in edgeways between Colleen and her pals comparing nail-varnish and going 'phwoar!' David Tennant's ass.

This was Keith Telly Topping reporting to you, dear blog reader, from the arid desert that is daytime TV. Next time on Top Telly Tips, we'll be back where it actually counts. In the hours of darkness.

The Munich Radio Orchestra's version of O Fortuna, conducted by Kurt Eichhorn, has been named as the UK's most-heard classical disc in a Radio 2 show broadcast this week. The People's Classical Chart, Radio 2's two-hour countdown of the classical recordings most heard in all public places across the UK over the last seventy five years, was presented by comedian and musician Bill Bailey and compiled by music licensing company PPL. Twentieth-Century German composer Carl Orff's O Fortuna, from his 1937 oratorio Carmina Burana, has been made popular by widespread use in adverts and films and it is the Munich Radio Orchestra's 1973 recording, featuring the Bavarian Radio Chorus and Tolzer Children's Choir, which has been played most on radio, TV and in public. 'Of course, we all knew the number one would be a Thirteenth Century Latin goliardic poem!' joked Bailey. Another classical buff Stephen Fry, one of many contributors to the show, added: 'For some reason, it almost sounds satanic, although it's actually a religious piece.' Inspired by a mediaeval Latin poem, the familiar, stirring O Fortuna has been used extensively as a work inspiring Jerry Goldsmith's music for the 1976 horror film The Omen. It featured in several of Michael Jackson's tours, the Old Spice adverts and as a theme in The X Factor, as well as being is used by various football clubs as their teams take the field up and down the country, from Newcastle United to Doncaster Rovers. Lewis Carnie, Head of Programming, Radio 2 and 6 Music, said: 'O Fortuna is a timeless piece of music that continues to be played, performed and loved over seventy years after its composition and this is a wonderful recording of the work.' The programme was the follow-up to a countdown of pop recordings, The People's Chart, also compiled by PPL for its seventy fifth anniversary, which was aired by Radio 2 at Easter. Presented by Rob Brydon, it revealed the most-played pop recording as Procol Harum's dreary hippy nonsense 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale.' Beaten into second place by Orff was the London Philharmonic's 1986 Abbey Road recording, of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis. A 1990 recording by the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Charles Mackerras of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade, adapted from the famous stories of the Arabian Nights, came third. The Australian conductor, interviewed in the programme, pronounced himself 'delighted.' The most-featured piece in the Top Thirty of the People's Classical Chart is Gustav Holst's The Planets, represented in four different recordings, the highest at number eight by Manchester's Halle Orchestra, which was recorded in 1975. The country producing the most recordings in the top ten was Russia, with four; a British orchestra, the Philharmonia, had the most recordings, four, in the top thrity. Other popular pieces featured included Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty (number four) and Swan Lake (number eighteen), Bizet's Carmen (number twelve) and Grieg's Piano Concerto (number seventeen and, presumably, not the Eric Morecambe version). No Prokofiev, however and no Satie either. Keith Telly Topping is faintly disappointed by this turn of events! The show, a Wise Buddah production for Radio 2, by journalist/broadcaster Paul Sexton, also featured interviews with classical artists such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Katherine Jenkins, Hayley Westenra, Julian Lloyd Webber, choreographer Matthew Bourne and aficionadoes such as Rolf Harris, Sir Patrick Moore and Elbow's Guy Garvey.


Adam said...

My understanding was that David Tennant was returning due to popular demand.

It is difficult for me to imagine that young man as a proper doctor. He looks like a miscast to me.

Anonymous said...

Awesome site, I had not come across previously in my searches!
Keep up the superb work!